if there is a demand for something, there will be that something. we just have to hope we can find a way to pay for it. thanks. i think we have one last gentleman. >> i love your book on einstein. thank you for that. it's just wonderful. >> he's a really cool dude. >> recently i was watching c-span there was a woman on name temple grandin and she said she has asked burgers. she has written widely and is saving expert. and she says that einstein almost certainly had the syndrome. ..
all these things are visual thought experiment to the reason i say that is maybe that is still verbal learning ability wasn't a handicap, wasn't a disability but was a different way of learning things, and one of the things i've learned whether i look at bill gates, very in lewicke but now sort of tops the skill and emotional intelligence or bill clinton who goes a little bit over the scale and emotional bonding we are all very different and when we talk about our education system we should remember people are different and we don't necessarily need to label everything and categorize it to see different people are going to learn in different ways and there will be some disabilities but also some abilities that come from each of those things, so whether or not he had a.d.d. or as burgers or -- he wasn't, you know, it wasn't notably autistic. he had a great relationships with family members and, you
know, but to whether or not they are that way, that is part of what makes us all different and maybe someday the will of chemicals in the hills and as dr. walker percy would save the gentleman with a magnetometer to take away all of your quirks and disability and being borderline asperger's or whatever. i'm not sure we would want those devices because then we wouldn't have great leaders and great heroes. thank you. [applause] >> okey another wonderful evening. if people will help us for the pitchers, please call and line of to my left here walter isaacson will sign copies of his books. thanks for coming. >> for more information about walter isaacson, ceo of the aspen institute, visit aspeninstitute.org.
next, new york staff writer and editor hendrik hertzberg talks about barack obama's 2008 presidential campaign. the longest and most expensive in u.s. history. this event was hosted by politics and prose bookstore in washington, d.c.. >> i want to thank you for coming. i am karlan, one of the owners of politics and prose, and i want to especially welcome hendrik hertzberg to light. we've been pleased to follow doorsteps from speechwriter to president for president carter to the new republic to the new yorker where your talk of town pieces are a highlight of the magazine filled with great articles. but stores are a highlight. "obamanos" is comprised of pieces called from the top of the tom supplemented with bald comments concerning the election
of 2008. i see them as a quick history of american politics from 2004 through 2008. part one appropriately named the wreckage reminds readers of the disintegration of bush's second term and the president said increasing befuddlement and distance. in an article called from g8 for example, hendrik hertzberg recalls the military figures who strongly criticized the secretary of defense and urged his removal. for the second part, the second part is called the marathon. rick reports on the primary season meeting no preference for obama. the section begins with a devastating reflection on recent american political dynasties. parquetry represents the period after obama clinched the nomination and is called "the spirit."
the last paragraph of rik's last piece needs to be engraved on the walls. "americans of an age to remember selma and montgomery and memphis did not imagine they would live to see an african-american elected president of the united states. it has happened. no doubt, there will be disappointment and difficulties ahead, there always are." it is a great pleasure to welcome hendrik hertzberg back here tonight. [applause] thank you, that was lovely. and thank you all for turning out. this is touching and lovely to see so many lovely people here. thank you. i am here because of "obamanos." also, by the way because of another sort of novelty item,
"one million," which is a book that contains 1 million dots that i first published in 1970, a couple of additions. this is a brand new addition just out. carla has given a summary of the book i was going to give. [laughter] which actually is good because i want to keep this short end to the part we talk together and to answer questions or make statements and i respond to them and in my experience that's always the best part of this kind of thing. originally i was thinking about what i would say tonight i was going to wax nostalgic about the exploration and the terror of the campaign and the of joy of election white and the inauguration and then follow up with a discussion of how obama
has collided with reality and how we have all come down from the extraordinary high of the moment as we inevitably would. and i am still going to do that. i'm going to touch on that at the end but first i want to talk about something else. today is the anniversary of the 20 anniversary of the fall of the berlin wall. and there is a lot of discussion around about what the causes of that work and the world that ronald reagan played in that event. so i want to say a few things about that. first i want to tell a story about this goes back to when i worked in the white house for jimmy carter as a speechwriter. one day i was reading the paper and saw a little item in the paper about how comes also get
-- [inaudible] the youth newspaper, the communist league of the soviet union had run a kind of letter writing and campaign and obviously responding to carter's human-rights -- human rights campaign, in which they printed postcard and people were supposed to sign the postcard and send it addressed to the postcard, just a little item in the paper. so i was curious so i went to the mailroom of the old executive office building and said have you been getting mail from the soviet union and they said yeah, follow me. and they took me to a room that was filled with sacks of mail and there were hundreds of thousands of these postcards, which is a stamp collector's treen when we have these stamps
on them. so, this was 1977. it was a few months into the administration, the carter had been conducting this human rights campaign. and calling on the soviet union to do something. and so i stirred myself to write a memo to brzezinski, national security adviser and i sit here is -- why don't we do this, let's have carter write a letter to the editor, in which he explains we have a democracy that we don't have one party, we have as many parties as people appear to have, but certainly we have to and there's a difference between two and one. let's give them a little lesson
in democracy. let's write this letter, take it down to the corner post office box mailbox, put it in the mail of course through the state department we will let them know that it's coming but let's see what they do. and brzezinski veldt this is a terrible idea. i wrote the letter. we were ready to go and he checked with the state department and normally i attended to be on vance's site of the split in the carter administration. this time i was very much on brzezinski's cited the state department put the caboshed on this idea and it never happened because they were worried about the affect of questioning the legitimacy of the soviet union. because that is what this had gone. now, i think that carter's human rights policy as hovel believe
this had a very large impact on the process that led to the disintegration in the fall of the soviet empire and communism in europe. i have to admit now, well, let me go back and talk about reagan for a minute because reagan turned to be a surprising figure. the first reagan that came along was of scary certain to be character, and he didn't seem to understand if it was between communism and liberalism. he had a manichean view seemingly. he called the soviet union the evil empire which at the time i disapproved of. i thought it was juvenile. and if the conservatives and the neoconservatives and embraced him because they thought finally hears somebody with an understanding that they are some
of things you can't compromise with that somebody with a tragic sense of history who understands that it's not a matter of miscommunication if we are just explaining ourselves a little better, be. and that is what reagan seemed to be. well, then when gorbachev came along reagan turned out to be more surprising and unpredictable character. it turned out he had his own ideas, and he had been saying for years that if he could just get the soviet leader into a helicopter and fly him over an american suburb and looked down and say see that little house down there, see that little brown thing? that is a swimming pool, and those two cars belong to this guy, he's a worker. they belong to him. he thought that the soviet leader would think that looks
pretty good maybe we should try some of that. now that was ridiculously by yves to believe. but the essentially that is what happened. essentially that is what happened, and reagan kept issuing these surprises. another one was i remember on was that the new republic at the time and there was a kind of argument over the nuclear freeze question, and we published a couple of long defenses of the morality of deterrence and the entire conservative and neoconservative infrastructure had mobilized in favor of arguments in favor of nuclear deterrence. then one day reagan gave a speech his star wars speech i guess in which he said nuclear deterrence was in a moral -- and morrill. the idea we were going to defend ourselves by annihilating the soviet union, that was not
acceptable. his argument was first or worse, star wars was a fantasy of course. but he believed in it. and when gorbachev came along he negotiated with gorbachev. he did not stand in the week. he did not believe, as for example, dick cheney believed was a trick. that this was a kgb plot to get us to lower our guard. he thought gorbachev meant what he said. and surprisingly, reagan meant what he said. for the simple, he said that the united states would share star wars technology with the soviet union. everybody dismissed that as ridiculous. gorbachev's military people did come and for that reason extraordinary opportunity was missed on the whole, reagan's contribution to the end of the
cold war was not to do anything rather than to let things unfold as they did on fold. i know that it is now an article of faith among conservatives that tear down this wall that speech led to the wall being torn down. there's certainly no causal relationship there. but, there is a relationship -- but have read in stock to the richard perle neoconservative vision and he could have torpedoed gorbachev, could have probably could have caused the cold war to continue for a number of years. he didn't do that. and at reykjavik when he met with gorbachev in this extraordinary summit meeting, he
violated all of the pieties of the neo conservatism by offering total nuclear disarmament. i'm sure there's some of you here old enough to remember that. to the horror of the handlers reagan went off in a room by himself with a group of interpreters and came out with a big smile they made a deal they were going to have total nuclear disarmament. very quickly all of riggins's people quickly tried to do this and they did successfully on do it because riggins's condition was that he would have to be able to continue to develop the star wars nuclear missile defense system and gorbachev and his generals concluded because they were not thinking big
enough this was an american attempt to get a first strike capability. obviously star wars was a fantasy as something to defend against an all-out nuclear attack. it wouldn't work even with a tack of half a dozen missiles as a defense. but it might be useful as a backup for a first strike against the soviet union. if you have a bad missile defense system and you launch an all-out nuclear strike on all of the soviet nuclear installations and you've got this sort of half-assed defensive might be good enough for what was left over after you had nuke all of their nukes, so that's the way the soviets thought of it. that was not imaginative. so i plame -- actually i blame gorbachev more than reagan for the failure at reykjavik because it was regan over estimating the value of this missile defense system. it was and gorbachev -- it was
sent gorbachev. and i actually, once i had an opportunity to have a brief conversation with george shultz, reagan's secretary of state and put this theory. he completely agreed. he agreed that it was gorbachev overvaluing star wars and not reagan. so, reagan was not responsible for the fall of communism, not by a long shot. but the thing he did do that carter didn't do and that kind of conventional minded people were unwilling to do was precisely what i dismissed at this time when he called the soviet union and evelyn tire. that is he was willing to question the legitimacy of the soviet union. the soviet system which was in
fact an illegitimate system. and the sky did not fall. now turned out when freakin' said evil he just meant, he didn't really mean evil. he mends misguided. and he like happy endings. he liked the kind of movie where the villain, the good guy kind of shows that guide, shows him the right way to behave and then the bad guy comes on over to the side of the good guy, and that movie was the one that played out. it turned out he didn't mean the soviet union and it was evil, it just meant that it was misguided and once they realized there was a better way they would pick the better way so that is my little tribute and to ronald reagan who cost me one of the best jobs that i ever had being jimmy
carter's speechwriter. >> now i promised i would get back to something to do with "obamanos." and i'm going to make this really short and then we can get to everyone coming up and asking questions. i think that this what we are seeing now -- this is about as good as it is going to get. as i expect to see in my lifetime in the sense that we have a president who is certainly not perfect, no president can be but i don't think we will have a better one for some time to come. there is substantial democratic majority in both houses of congress, not an unbeatable one but substantial one. and if health care fails, if
climate change legislation fails, if the domestic initiatives of the obama administration fail, then what will have failed is not the people, the personnel with the system and so i am increasingly turning my attention such as it is to what i -- what i have been writing about for many years and before i got caught up in the obamamania brought more often and expect to be writing more often again, and that is our political system, what obama is up against. what he is against is an 18th-century technology, political technology cutting edge at the time. the best come about as good as
he could come up with 1979 but not really up to code and a modern sense. and there are many things i would like to see free-form about it, and i'm going to mention two, one that would have immediate results and one that would have somewhat more of term results. i think i would like to see progressives and the liberals and just generally people of good will get behind the abolitions a filibuster. if it were not for the filibuster, we would have health care reform right now. even with all the distortions built into the design of the united states senate where wyoming has every voter in wyoming is represented by 60 times more than a voter in
california. far worse prevailed than when the senate was designed. even with the distortions built into the senate health care would pass the senate if it could pass by a simple majority. but we are in a slow-motion constitutional crisis, and the most immediate cause is a filibuster, filibuster isn't a way of the written constitution. in fact, it is almost certainly unconstitutional because the constitution specifies certain cases where supermajority is required then you can assume that the did not imagine that super majorities would be required for other purposes. and that sense it is to me quite clearly unconstitutional. now it won't be declared unconstitutional. there's no way to enforce on
constitutionally because the supreme court would not interfere in the internal workings of the senate but i think it is quite obviously unconstitutional but that is the worst thing about it. the worst thing about it is it takes a rusted come up system that the best of times is on and responsive and shot through with the two points where well-organized well funded minorities can put a stop to things. it takes that and makes it much, much, much worse. so i'm hoping that what their health care wins or loses and if it wins it will be an inadequate victory compared to what other industrial countries have come even with -- even if the house bill or somehow miraculously to be accepted in the senate we
would still have called of maybe half way or one-third of the way to other industrial countries in our health care policy. but i hope that liberals, progressive, democrats will not give way to the kind of fun moralizing that will get us anywhere that only if a woman had been tougher, if democrats were also chicken, if only they had a spy and that is not the problem the problem is not sliding or the moral inadequacy of politicians, democratic or otherwise. the problem is the system and by the system i mean the hydraulics and mechanics including most prominently right now and most easily dealt with the filibuster
so that's reform number one. the second reform is one that life then boring people with ford about three years now. that's when it was conceived. and that is the national popular vote planned for the president, for electing the president. this is a way we can achieve the goal which is supported by 70% of the public pretty much everybody of having a presidential election in which people vote, you count the votes, the one with the most votes gets to be president. and better still it doesn't matter where your voting. it doesn't matter whether you are in a swing state or a spectator state. door vote should count. and the national popular vote plan does that by, and this is a little complicated. it had to be explained to me three or four times. let me have a show of hands.
is their anybody here that does understand what the national popular vote planas? [laughter] one person. okay. two people. we are getting somewhere. here's what it is: states one by one would adopt a bill, an identical bill and which says we come at a hampshire or whenever the state, we signed up for interstate compact among the states who passed this bill and the terms of the compact are as soon as enough states have signed onto this to make a majority of the look toward a college, to wondered 70 votes needed to elect a president, from then on and at that point, and a presidential election the next presidential election we will pass all of our votes, the undersigned some states will cast all to under 70 votes for whoever wins the popular vote nationally, popular built it all
50 states in the district of columbia. it took me awhile to get my head around this idea. but what it would do, the affect of it would be we would have a truly national election which we've never had a history of the united states. all presidential elections have been 50 or however many of the time separate elections. we would have a truly national election. it would solve the so-called rahm winner problem. but that's not the most important thing it would do because after all of you don't get the wrong when are all that often. it's only happened four times i guess in the nation's history. only once since the united states became a relatively modern democracy with an elected senate and women allowed to vote and so on. now, it happens too often for
that of -- for out of 44 that small -- that's not an error rate you want in heart surgery and it's not such a great error rate in presidential elections and it's worse if you look at the close elections that are not landslides the nets one and seven error rate that means six times as often it works. what happens in every presidential election and with this would solve is politics is not worth doing and 80% of the country in the general election if you live in the district of columbia. if you live in new york. if you live in texas or mississippi or california or in fact 38 or 40 of the 50 states it just doesn't happen. there is no -- there might as
well -- you might as well be disenfranchised in the presidential election, and it's wrong that grass-roots politics should not be worth doing in all those parts of the country. if this national popular vote plan goes through, and it has been adopted, by i guess five states now so far been quietly kind of under the radar, if it reaches its goal of 270 and we do have either the next election or reelection after that a real popular vote, presidential election this would really energized american politics in an extraordinary way and trickled down to all levels of political involvement, and it will reduce the power of money. right now money is a huge determinant of elections and that is partly -- that's not because well, this would not
change the amount of money candidates and campaigns would raise. right now they are raising every dollar they can and that is what they would continue to do under this plan. but one to think you can put a cap on is a citizen involvement and that is what would be -- that is what would be promoted by this. that's the money would have to be spread widely so it couldn't be just targeted on these swing states and organizing coffee klatsches having your neighbors in, going door to door in your own community instead of some swing state if you could spare the time that is the politics that would be of greater value and be more determinant of the outcome. so there is to reforms, writ of the filibuster, you let a president by popular vote. they are both doable and like an awful lot of reforms these are things that could actually
happen. and i urge you to inform yourself about that and get involved in them. i would like to hear from you if there is anybody that's got anything to do with the campaign with any of these ideas and the new yorker and anything else. i guess people should come up to this microphone over here. >> microphone in the center. >> i gather from the comments you feel although this election could have been a transfer what it election it turns out not to be because of the stumbling blocks carroll. >> i think it's a little early to say. i mean, i guess the subtitle of my book the birth of a new political era is kind of hard to say perhaps whether the era -- the iraq take a long time.
but i think that it was a transforming the election and i think it will be remembered as one. the frustration and the system, the frustration of getting things through congress is not new and there's been -- we idealize the past and we idealize fdr and lbj. they didn't get all they wanted by any means. and obama is not going to get all he wanted by any means but he's already -- he's already enormously reduced the moral tone of american public life and of american government. he has transformed foreign policy and by his appointments has given the kind of government we want and deserve and i do think that ultimately he will be seen as a transfer the figure.
>> tinkering with the electoral college, not tinkering with it but the program what happens -- >> does that work? the state's -- >> it's not on. >> i don't know what to do about that. i don't see a switch. [inaudible conversations] >> there we go. well done. >> the states, 270 electoral votes -- >> step up to the microphone. >> i'm up to the microphone -- >> cast them all. what happens when we have 25 people running for president? >> that everybody catch that? i think you're suggesting that if we had a national election like this that there would be --
would destroy the two parties and we would have lots and lots of candidates. >> do you think that's a possibility? >> i don't. i think if it were true, if that were true the same thing would be happening at the government gubernatorial level right now. this plan would elect presidents the same way we elect state governors and mayors. the reason that we have a two-party system is because we have a win or to call elections and that means there's going to be only one winner and to have a chance of democracy working you essentially have to have to parties. they are not like european parties, they are more like the national league and american league and you have this season and playoffs and the to the mayor urged from that running against each other. i see no reason why there should be more third-party is or why there should be a lot of candidates.
actually this would historically if you look back on the third parties, the ones -- if you look at the george wallace campaign that was a regional effort and the system we have had up until now with a winner-take-all rules also not part of the constitution encourages that kind of regional -- wallace, if wallace had won a couple of more states he might have been able to be the power broker to decide the presidential election. but he didn't have just a normal collection he would have been nothing. i don't see any evidence we would have more candidates for president than you get for governor in the average state. >> my stride. now second question --
>> do you have an answer to it? >> nope. >> good. >> why can't the samet simply stand down a filibuster and let the guy read the phone book and the bible and the odyssey or whatever? >> good question. why can't the senate, why can't they make them filibuster their filibuster liken mr. smith goes to washington? i think they should do that. i guess the underlying question is why do senators like filibuster's so much? why do even minority -- why do the majority centers like it? why is it hard to get rid of? the main reason is a durham powers the higher the threshold that's 60 vote threshold gives individual senators enormous power, and this would decrease their individual power to do it. still there was a time when this
was a big public issue for democrats, this was something. joe lieberman for example when he was a freshman senator was signed on to a campaign to abolish the filibuster. i think that that senators attachment to the filibuster could be overcome by a concerted campaign to persuade them to do eight. >> there was also a time it was 66 votes were i think required instead of 67 would be a further argument. i have a small question of what difference will question a big question. in one of your essays about pennsylvania during the primary season, you mentioned a "new york times" editorial that was very critical of senator clinton and i like the sector a stick at this point so i don't want to criticize her but you made the
offhand comment it seems like that may be if "the new york times" higher-ups' for telling them they had to write an endorsement of senator clinton so i'm curious what you know about that dynamic in "the new york times" because it is currently perhaps our best source of information in this country. so if you could comment on that back play on big issues that order comedown from sulzberger? then i have another question but you want to answer that? >> i think the short answer -- i don't have inside dope how the editorial board and "new york times" works but as i understand it, yes on those really big things on endorsements especially on endorsements of candidates, essentially the word does come down. if the word came down to support
-- if the word had come down to support mccain there probably would have been an uprising on the editorial board. you might have had resignations and all that. but between clinton and obama, i think if you had a secret ballot at the times editorial board at times you probably would have gotten a small plurality for obama. but essentially the word came down. this is a senator from new york. >> so the big question which is kind of what your book is about as you probably know when david ploughs published his book arianna huffington wrote a quite to suppress post and essentially u.s david plaza set off to attack obama, the idea of her having this interview with him so she set foot at this great book, a great campaign and here
we have this president sitting back waiting for stuff to come to him and there is a big debate going on in the blog salon.com so forth and what you're seeing is the system so we can sort of put that aside but my sense of the zeitgeist and obama world which includes me and you and a lot of other people on the blogs and the dailykos is a sort of way he has lost touch with his people. i mean the deals with billy, and i'm still a strong supporter but this is what i hear on forma, standing back on the public option. he supports it but he sort of -- life understand that's part of the structure -- do you understand? the connection of him and the white house, you know? >> i understand what you're
getting at and i think that part of obama's calculation is that the left will keep the pressure on, and i think it's important for the left such as it is, the center-left to do that, to keep him honest and keep pressuring him from the left. but i think that being president is not being the ruler of the united states. it's not like the dictator and it's not like being a prime minister. it is being the head of one of three governments, for the federal government set the national level all independently elected and i do need approval will fall three, the senate, the house, and the white house to get anything important done, and
it is a high wire act incredibly hard to do and there are -- it requires -- you can do it without compromise and without losing, without falling short of what you ideally want to do. now it may be, and i guess i have some complaints, too, about obama's tactics and times when i think he should have started out a little bit further in the negotiation than he did. there is a line between if you start to far in one direction in a negotiation that when you could end up with something that is seen as the feed rather than victory and it's all sorts of balancing you have to do. i know obama has been criticized for letting the congress right the health bill instead of writing one and presenting it to
congress. i think that tactically he probably made the right decision in doing that. certainly we are closer now than we have been since truman's date to getting something done. so i think that the argument should be made, substantive argument should be made by the center-left and by the left but not the he has no backbone, not the character logical arguments. i don't think we have a problem -- one of our problems is not that we have a character logically reprehensible of president. that is pretty low on the list of things we need to worry about. >> thank you. this is somewhat related and you've touched on it, but we've talked about how outmoded and bog down our congressional system is, but could you speak
more to the importance of the quality of leadership? in other words, if lbj had been the majority leader would you not agree that the health bill would probably have cleared the senate three months ago and quality of leadership as a part of the whole equation is distinct from the system itself? >> i don't know that it is the quality of leadership. i think that lbj had a bigger majority for one thing. it was -- it was majority had to crawl to get there but it was a bigger majority. the senate is -- i don't think leadership is really the problem. also, the filibuster was not a routine when and if the idea the filibusters were used very sparingly until i guess on till
the 80's. now the filibuster is a routine part of the legislative process so that people think and it's covered this way that it is routine the you have to have 60 votes to enact a bill in the senate. lbj didn't have to cope with that. not that the filibuster didn't do an awful lot of damage but it really was a nuclear option. it was something that was only used rarely and as a kind of desperation last-ditch for instance by the racist southern democratic party to stop civil rights bills. yeah, lbj was an extraordinary and talented leader but you know our system relies heavily on
that kind of indispensable man. it ought to -- i mean, america -- i think america is the only country where you hear people are always complaining that such and such politician wants to get reelected and the kind of demand that politicians should forget about getting reelected and they should do the right thing even if it costs them their job. you do hear that a lot in this country. you don't hit too much and other democracies. and when you think about it a little bit you see that it is kind of backward that a whole idea that the framers, and they were extraordinarily brilliant, they were the best you could get at that time, they had the idea that people were weak and that man was found will and you should have a system that took account of that fact.
and so our system should be organized in such a way that the weakness, the desire to get reelected should result in good public policy and we shouldn't rely on suicide missions of politicians in order to get things done. it is a systemic problem. server? >> how do you respond to people like me who are very glad to have the filibuster in place when the republicans controlled the house senate and presidency and the house was routinely passing horrible bills that got killed in the senate? >> well, at that time i guess i am kind of proud of myself for this because at the time when the republicans for threatening the nuclear option if you remember when they were proposing to abolish the filibuster for judicial nominations and i thought and wrote at the time that the democrats should take the dare
accept say not just for judicial nominations but for everything. let's get rid of it for everything. actually a much better argument for having the filibuster for judicial nominations than for the law because the judicial nomination for life the law we can be repealed after the next election if the voters replace congress by you can't repeal the supreme court justice for life. so there's something to be set for a super majority for supreme court justices. i don't think there should be that should happen any way but it is something to be said for. the filibuster, i would be willing to take the risk and i am sorry that the democrats were too short-sighted to see, to seize the opportunity to get rid of the filibuster it would be -- it's true it would be a little bit hypocritical in some ways for them to get rid of it now. but, you know, that is a price i
for one would be happy to pay. the filibuster is an enemy of energetic government and we need energetic government. we've got the problems we face. they are more difficult than we've ever faced. they require strong coherent government action, and we need to tweak the system so that is capable of that sort of action and the risk is yes wind the other side is in power they will be able to do what they want. i am also sure that is so terrible though. if the site on were able to do what it wants when it's in power line prepared to have the other side be able to do what it wants when it is in power. >> you anticipated my question and that was i wanted to ask more about why the current system is so anachronistic, and
my fear is it is one of two things: either we are getting more stupid or the problems are getting that much tougher. and if it is either one, are the changes that you are thinking of for the system sufficient to solve the problems that we are facing? >> historical one reason we've gotten stuck with a system that we have i think is that the civic religion that's grown up around it. our civic religion says that the framers of the constitution guided by divine providence came up with this scheme on the federalist papers explain why it was a good idea and it's served as well as it has for 200 years. and what is left out of this
tale, this narrative is the catastrophic failure of the system to solve the main problem facing the united states in this first half century of its existence namely slavery. the constitution could not solve that problem. it was designed more or less openly to be on able to solve that problem. but it didn't solve it. the issue had to be solved by the bloodiest or american history up until that time. and once the issue was resolved against slavery, both sides in the civil war had fought in the name of the constitution. both sides claimed to be the legitimate heir to the free verse. and so it was difficult for the union side, for the winners of the war to turn around and say let's fix the machine that got us into this fix to begin with
because they had fought in the name of that machine of the constitution. it's harder to amend the constitution the of the framers imagined it would be. there is a letter george washington wrote during the campaign for ratification to somebody who had written him criticizing the design of the constitution and said yes i know your right. this certainly not -- it is far from perfect. it's full of compromises. but don't worry because after a generation of experience with it it will be redesigned essentially that we've put in this mechanism for the amendment. it doesn't require unlike the articles of the confederation it doesn't require unanimous consent of all the states to do it. we will be able to fix it, so don't worry.
it's turned in to be harder to fix than we thought it would be. and in the broad sense the constitution. the way we do things, the subtle way of doing things. that is easier to amend, and the abolition filibuster is one thing we can do and electing a president by popular vote is another thing that we can do. and do we get from the state's top would be very much in the american tradition. that is how we got popular election of senators. by the time the amendment was passed, most senators were being elected by popular vote. it's how we got votes for the women, think. windber all for devoting most of the countries of the people passing the amendment were there because of the votes of the women. yes, sir. >> my question is a little different. you probably don't remember but i played softball a couple of summers at the new yorker and since i know that you are the star pitcher i was wondering what your off-season plans were
and also if you have a plan of attack to defeat the perennial powerhouse that is the height times bong hits terse? [laughter] >> the new dark soft ball team is reasonably competitive in most of the games but the one that we do take the field against the high times. the high times stuff is probably the best argument for the legalization of marijuana that i know what. [laughter] thank you. >> two quick questions. number one, in your opinion do you find president obama a. true pragmatist and second you have abundance and talking heads on the right propagating this idea that president obama presidency is going to turn out like jimmy carter's. could you elaborate on those? >> i do think he's a true pragmatist tactically.
i think that he is an idealist you might say ideologically. but he may even air on the side of pragmatism. will he turn out like jimmy carter? i don't -- i love jimmy carter. but jimmy carter was a one-term president, and i'm hoping that obama will be a to termed president. and i think he will be, and i love jimmy carter to much to answer this question honestly. so i will just move on to the next one. [laughter] >> these are the last two questions. >> do you believe in political cycles or is the process more random than that, and if you do do you think we are in the middle of a sustained political shift that would go beyond just one or two terms or do you think
we are in the middle of some other type of political long-term change and what is that? >> i hope that we are -- i think the fury of political cycles and the swaying back and forth there's less than meets the eye. when you have donato two-league system, two-party system, it has to go back and forth. and by the way that is something that worries me about what is happening in the republican party. and the takeover of the republican party by the rush limbaugh, sarah palin, sean hannity types because this at some point people are going to get tired of the democrats and the only alternative is going to be the republicans and they are going to vote for the republicans. and these are the republicans then we have a real problem.
we have a serious, serious problem on our hands. they've shown their incompetence and governing and that has led to some horace, and if you add on top of it this craziness, it is something to worry about. but i do think we may have a generation -- conservative ascendancy. i'm hoping that we are kind of entering a bumpy just as the conservative sentence seat was always -- did not always mean conservatives in charge of everything. i hope we are entering a bumpy kind of incidents each and what i really hope is there will be increasing attention given to this kind of political hydraulics that i've been talking about of looking at our system doing instead of worshiping the founding fathers in the take the founding fathers, do what the foun